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Hanging on to Carlos Pena would say a lot about Cubs’ plans

Carlos Pendoesn’t have no-trade protectibut Cubs might not be so eager trade him.  |  Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Carlos Pena doesn’t have no-trade protection, but the Cubs might not be so eager to trade him. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:36AM

Carlos Pena will be back in the Cubs’ lineup today after getting a day off against a left-hander Saturday.

But what about a week from now? Or maybe a year from now? Could he still be part of the Cubs’ lineup?

With the non-waiver trade deadline one week from today, the Cubs’ actions over the next seven days should reveal a glimpse into how drastically they plan to shake up the roster — and how deep they feel they can dig into their farm system — to turn around this year’s mess.

Pena, who signed that one-year, $10 million ‘‘pillow contract’’ in December, could be a key indicator.

‘‘We all know where the deadline is and all that,’’ Pena said. ‘‘We’re aware of that. But to be quite honest, I haven’t really spent too much time thinking about me, the possibility of that happening to me, of change.’’

Changes are definitely coming, with the only issue being a matter of how sweeping.

The Cubs would eat salary to move some of their high-priced veterans, including a boatload of cash to move Alfonso Soriano (although one longtime National League team official said there’s ‘‘not a big enough boat’’ for that to happen). Lesser-priced players with track records already are on other teams’ wish lists, including Kerry Wood (several teams), Jeff Baker (linked to the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies) and Reed Johnson (the Phillies are said to have interest). But the Cubs don’t plan to move guys in the plans for next year, including Baker.

A lot of talk in recent weeks has surrounded hot-hitting third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who says he won’t waive his no-trade rights.

But Pena, the left-handed slugger on the other side of the diamond, doesn’t have the same no-trade rights. And while he’s expected to draw more serious interest from contenders as the deadline nears, there’s a growing sense that the Cubs might consider him an option for first base next year.

That might depend a lot on what agent Scott Boras asks for Pena, particularly in contract length. Plans to keep Pena also would speak to the Cubs’ thoughts on going after a mega free agent such as Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols — as well as their thoughts about trying to compete again next season.

Manager Mike Quade speaks of Pena not only as a guy who has 20 homers since April (second only to the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista), but also as a ‘‘calming’’ influence on teammates, including struggling pitchers during a game.

As a player, Pena has been just about as advertised. The Cubs said when they signed him that they hoped for a Gold Glove first baseman who hit .220-.230 with 30-plus homers while knowing he’d strike out a lot.

‘‘We’ve got a ways to go, but maybe he’s better than advertised,’’ said Quade, who was asked about the challenge of replacing him. ‘‘And maybe he’s not going to have to be replaced. That decision’s a long way off.’’

Pena is open to the possibility of staying longer-term, even if he’s vague on contract expectations.

‘‘I love this place. That’s no secret,’’ he said. ‘‘I love the opportunity it presents. I love the thought of us winning. That image drives me
every single day, just the possibility of that happening. . . .

‘‘Ideally, I would love to be part of the movement forward, toward that championship. But, again, that’s one of those things that in a way is out of my control. So [the thought] ends right there. I’m not drafting my master plan. I’m more grateful for the fact I got an opportunity to go to Chicago and play for the Cubs, and I’m pumped about it.’’

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